Sunday, 20 December 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

I woke up to this scene on Friday morning. The French garden was as pretty as a picture. The winter garden looked like a scene from Scandinavia rather than Bedfordshire!

Ho,ho,ho! All that snow, meant no gardening this weekend. Instead it was a weekend when Jonathan and Sarah and Suzie came home. We went into our neighbours forest and chose our Christmas tree, then carried it home and decked it out with lights and baubels.

Happy Christmas to all who kindly follow this blog and lets hope for some happy gardening moments to share in 2010. But I may well be back before the 31st!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Boogie Woogie Jazz

Its fun to see the Mondrian Garden as night falls when the LED lights begin to cast their coloured light and shadows. I call it my Boogie Woogie Dance Floor complete with Manhatten towers made of Calamagrostis 'Overdam'. I last wrote about this on November 6th 2008, just a few months after it was completed and planted; the photograph looks so different now that the grasses have matured.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Cradle of Law in Hare Court

I was invited to create a new garden design for Hare Court, next Temple Church in the Inner Temple. One could scarcely be given a more historic site!

We quickly cleared the dark ugly conifers and replaced them with pockets of yew to create simple organic domes of dark and golden green; four white stemmed trees were planted to commemorate the lives of Nicholas Hare and his three brothers, all of whom belonged to the Inn during the latter half of the sixteenth century and after whom the Courtyard was named. A new path was added in Purbeck stone to echo those laid after the Great Fire in 1666.

Then we invited Tanya Russell to design a sculpture reflecting the space and she chose the concept of cuppped hands cradling the law and she named it 'Justice'. The yews and trees are beginning to make more impact now and as they grow they will soften the courtyard and provide a soft, sinuous cushion for this powerful piece of contemporary art. What a wonderful project to be involved with!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Rosemary Flower Risotto

This was a floral feast for early December! Melting risotto, beautiful soft Queen scallops, a handful of peas and a few snatches of spinach made this a memorable dish for Sunday lunch with family and friends.
BUT, here's the floral twist! Add to all that creamy softness, a scattering of aromatic (like the herb itself) pale blue blooms of rosemary and a sprinkling of tasty (like aniseed) bronze fennel flowers. Both of these are still in flower, in my edible flower border, even though winter is fast closing in. The result: a dish fit for any occasion where texture, fragrance, colour, vision and above all taste come together in a miraculous way.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Ultramarine Diamond

On a recent visit to the Phillips Collection in Washington, I found myself mesmerized by this painting dated 1967. It was by Jack Youngerman. Was it the depth of colour, the vibrancy, the symmetry, the clean shape? Was it that I saw a wonderful floor to a modern pavilion, a mural, a rill, a grass parterre? Only hours before I had been researching the garden archives at Dumbarton Oaks where so many wonderful ideas were executed to the highest degree.

Checking the Stevington Bees

In May 25,000 bees flew into our garden, just when we had an Open Day. It caused quite a stir! Chris Lewis, our local beekeeper came to the rescue and collected the swarm. He housed it elsewhere for a couple of months and then in August he brought it back with another hive. Now he comes at regular intervals to check them.

So our hive had 25,000 bees to begin with (obviously I took his word for it!) then apparently it grew to 50,000; now its down to 10,000. That's normal apparently, reflecting summer excess and winter poverty of food.

It so happens that I noticed lots of larger bees buzzing around the hives the other day, not going in at all. Apparently the queen chucks the males out at the onset of winter as she doesnot want them eating all the precious honey. Seems a very tough regime to me!

Chris donned his suit, took off the netting and then inspected inside the two hives. The netting apparently is to stop woody woodpecker reaching the honey; he doesnot like putting his feet on the wire so he goes away. Well, if it isn't wasps in Summer, its woodpeckers or badgers in winter; maybe even muntjac deer. The netting went back on, the bricks went on top of the netting and all was well with the hives. Its fingers crossed now that they are still healthy in March. Good job there are no brown bears around!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Stevington Floral Ice Bowls for Visit Bedford

After my Visit Bedford visitors had left, I popped the ice bwols back in the freezer where they might wait for a special occasion...should it be for orange liqueur ice cream, or a chilled soup. The marigold bowl had marigolds, bayleaves, rosehips and rosemary around the sides with juniper berries and pumpkin seeds for good measure. I love it from the inside just as much as from the outside. The rose bowl had little roses, a sprig of lavender and even a few violets. Now I have been asked to do an edible flower demonstration for some American Visitors to Bedford next May from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). That should be easier than November, but there will be no roses!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Rose Petal Macaroons for Visit Bedford

On Saturday morning we welcomed over 60 representatives of tourist groups from the West Midlands and East Anglia as part of a 'Visit Bedford' weekend. Luckily, it was a beautifully clear, sunny morning and Simon was able to take two tours of the garden, relishing the autumn colours but also bringing in many local historical aspects from Danes to John Bunyan!

My task was to perform an edible flower demonstration....quite a feat for November 7th! I had previosuly frozen some rose petal butter, and also frozen whizzed up rose petals with icing sugar. Now out of the freezer, all I needed to do was add some rose water to make the actual icing. Fortunately lots of tiny roses were still blooming on Rosa 'The Fairy' so, once the cake was assembled and iced, I was able to arrange them all around the pretty plate.

I had a little icing left over, so I put a tiny spot on some rose petal macaroons I had made with rose water, icing sugar, coconut and egg white (they are always a good standby as they are wheat free). Into each tiny spot of icing I placed a rose bud; they looked so gorgeous I could hardly believe we were in November!

I made another plate of them today so that I could take a photo and then gave them to a dear friend whose birthday it was so that she could enjoy a special birthday treat with her grandchildren Poppy and Sam. Apparently they loved them!

I also created a couple of ice bowls with roses, violets and rosemary and another with marigold flowers, bay leaves and berries. Plus some pretty violet flower ice cubes for violet fizz made with violet liqueur (such a heady perfumed drink, its unbelieveable), and tiny rose petal ice cubes to add to rose 'sparklers' made with rose liqueur and Prosecco. Then, I made a full blown Bloody Mary with rosemary ice cubes, each with a sprig of rosemary each holding an exquisite tiny pale blue flower. Needless to say my guests enjoyed tasting them all!

In the afternoon I joined the group at Elstow Abbey where they enjoyed the tales John Bunyan's younger days.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Misty morns and misty cows

We have some wonderful views from the garden looking out into the wider North Bedfordshire landscape where the River Great Ouse, meanders slowly through the rich meadows, where herons swoop and cattle gaze. On a late autumn morning, powerful changes emerge, with misty shrouds and ephemeral cows. Here in the garden, even the fountains are transformed, with vapours rising as dawn breaks. Just click on the photos to enjoy the atmospheric swirls!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Russet reds of autumn

I have been to New England and back, but nowhere were the colours as good as in my own back yard! True I don't have the gorgeous reflections in broad rivers, or tranquil lakes, but here in Old England we do have a super range of foliage tints. Here at Stevington, we have heavy clay soil and so I can never enjoy the rich reds of the maples or American oaks, but gingko and metasequoia certainly come up trumps, the first with their golden lobes and the second with its ferny sprays of orange mixed with shades of pink.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Fiery Crab Apple Jelly

The trees are groaning with fruit right now and we have a mission this weekend to make crab apple jelly....its delicious and such a gorgeous colour when 'John Downie' crab apples are used. I have been growing chillies in hanging baskets, right besides the kitchen door. Some of them will be added to the crab apple mixture, to provide extra fire, and give zingy tang to winter feasts.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Chelsea Chop or Flop

Last May I cut back great swathes of sedum in the garden, a third off every stem. Soon all the stems were re-shooting and now they are coming into flower and the bees are loving them. I shall certainly do it next year...stop the flop, give it the chop!

Which echincea? Cone or not?

We have lots of echinaceas to choose from these days and they all have merits; but if well grown 'White Swan' takes some beating. 'Fatal Attraction' is one I absolutely cherish for its wonderful dark stems and rich deep pink flowers but 'White Swan' has more prominent cones and what is more they hold their form well into the autumn and winter, unlike those of 'Fatal Attraction' which soon disintegrate. 'Green Envy' is certainly a talking point and one which seems to flower very well. As for winter cones, I can't remember!

Friday, 4 September 2009

A busman's holiday in Berlin

In August Simon and I attended a gardening course in Berlin which followed the recent German love affair with herbaceous plants and grasses. But we couldnot go all that way without a visit to the fantastic Garden Park of Sanssouci built for Frederick the Great. The project began on 10 August 1744 and fulfilled his wish to create a series of vine terraces. It is an incredible feat of engineering with convex centres to maximise the sun light .

It is our great luck that the garden has recently been restored with vines growing along the top of each terrace, in low fashion, while tall vines are trained up each tier of the supporting walls,all interplanted with figs.

The Great Fountain was built in 1748 and the marble statues were added soon afterwards.

It looked incredible from the top. It looked incredible as we walked down all the steps (well over 100) and looked even more incredible from down below looking back up the hillside. I loved the curved centres of the terraces, and the curves of the sweeping steps. The yew pyramids acted as great counterpoints.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The bees have returned

Three or four inches of rain fell yesterday afternoon and evening. We were expecting Chris Lewis to bring two hives of bees, but wondered whether he would prefer to leave them for another day.

But, no, at 8.30pm he dank, dark conditions. We had placed five large slabs in readiness besides the native species hedge. Out came the hives. They were placed on bricks, then the straps taken off and the front entrance unplugged. Our Stevington swarm from the end of May had returned! They were really active, we were told. The other from Great Staughton was altogether smaller and quieter.

This afternoon I went to get a photo. Wow..the noise, the hum, the activity. I wasnot going too close! Our swarm was the one on the right.....there was masses of activity and a very loud buzz. Let's hope they want to stay!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Humpty Dumpty

As if a Mondrian Wall is not enough to hide the compost bins, we now have Humpty Dumpty sitting on top...all a remarkable tribute by two x Bedford School boys; the first by our son Jonathan executed some 9 years ago; and the second by Neil Burley who rose to the challenge made only three weeks ago at Hampton Court Flower Show to produce Humpty Dumpty in time for our Mad Hatter's Tea Party. No sooner said than done! What a fantastic talent for someone who has never ever undertaken a commission before. I can't believe this will be his last!

Who stole the Tarts

Our Mad Hatter's Tea Party meant that we had croquet on the lawn, although the flamingoes barely stood still, let alone the hedgehogs. Meanwhile tea trays were flying through the air. All very bizarre. We had lots of fantastic paintings around the garden and also in the Church Rooms where the feast and play took place. Star of the feast were the Jam Tarts which of course were stolen. Actually all 72 of them were very kindly and lovingly made by Hannah's Mum.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Saturday Ist August came and went like a dream with a feast and play for 55 people! The Mad Hatter's Tea Party theme created a wonderful atmosphere with lots of our guests dressing up in hats and costumes. White roses were painted red, and adorned the two long banqueting tables with pink flamingoes, rabbits disppearing down rabbit holes, mouses in a pool of tears, gravel cup cakes, etc etc all created by the fantastic Masterchef finalist Hannah Miles, was amazing. The theme of the play was who stole the tarts. Simon was the fearsome judge,I was the Queen of Hearts, Suzie was Alice, a friend called Paula was the White Rabbit and three great players from a local amateur drama group were the MC, the Mad Hatter and the doormouse. Oone of our guests called Danny was the Knave and two small children called Belina and Theo were the guards. Hannah of course played the cook.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Peacock butterflies and honey bees in our Monet and Hokusai borders

This has been a magical weekend with bees and butteflies in great numbers visiting the verbenas, buddlejas, blue geraniums and echinaceas.

These photos were taken in our Monet waterlily borders where Echinacea 'White Swan' represent the white waterlilies in Monet's painting in Tate Modern and the blue Gernaium 'Rozanne' represents the water beneath.

Elsewhere in the wild flower meadow the scabious and knapweeds are alive with insects. A fabulous show of native insects enjoying native food.

Yet to walk through the Hokusai borders is mesmerising beyond brings tears to my eyes every time; flights of Painted Ladies and cabbage whites, meadow browns and common blue just lift off into the air, soaring and fluttering above supping, tasting, feasting on the Verbena bonariensis; so walking through a dream. It is a butterfly wonderland. Free and fantastic.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Alvis come to Stevington

A group of Alvis car fanatics came on a garden visit in mid July and we enjoyed them parked in our front drive; made in Coventry, several dated from the 1930s. According to the Alvis Club website 'They were relatively expensive when new, competing in the upper end of the market, and were not produced in large numbers, thus they are very exclusive. Performance, appearance and finish are all well above the levels found in run of the mill cars. Whilst other makes are better known and more instantly recognised, there is an air of quiet good breeding about an Alvis which expresses its owner's taste.' They certainly graced our garden that day!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

For our Mad Hatter's Tea Party next Saturday we are going to dress up and act out the trial scene about who stole the tarts with the Red King, White Rabbit etc all wearing glorious hats. Over 50 people are coming to the party and we will have the most exotic tea with Dodo egg delights, Eat Me Stuffed Mushrooms,Fish footman “Dear Little Crab” tarts,Down the Rabbit Hole Cupcakes,Pocket Watch cupcakes, Eat Me Cakes,Looking glass biscuits etc etc all made by Masterchef finalist, Hannah Miles. It promises to be an amazing adventure!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Deep Dark Clematis

Two of our favourite 'late flowering' clematis are out right now...angular Romantika and rounded Miegritianka both with an array of dusky jewels. They vie with Black Prince to be the darkest of them all....but there are also a host of others, light blue, purple, cream, yellow, pink etc. to be seen on our Tuesday openings in July or on our Open Day on August 2nd.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Bee heaven

Echinops sphaerocephalum Arctic Glow is really attractive to bees and on a warm day each spiky globe will probably have three or four different types supping the nectar.

We call these echinops 'golf balls' here, easy to see why with the Open Championship well under way, but the latin name translates as hedgehog and its easy to see why. They have self seeded amongst the gravel to form a great colony beneath the white stemmed birch trees and they make an impressive display.

All sorts of honey and bumble bees visit them including carder bees, orange bottom, and white bottom types. We saw a hornet there earlier in the week.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Nigella papillosa African Bride

Nigella papillosa African Bride comes out slightly later than the usual blue love in the mist. Self seeding every year between two white stemmed birches, it is as much an 'eye catcher' in flower, as it is when it holds its amazing seedheads aloft. A winner either way.

Thursday, 2 July 2009


I always love Wimbledon fortnight. I used to work at the Bank of England and one of the perks was to sometimes be lucky enough to receive entry tickets to Wimbledon (preliminary matches were held on the Bank of Englnad tennis courts at Roehampton). How I revelled in the excitement of John Mc Enroe and Bjorn Borg etc etc. Well, now I have my own tennis racket planted up! Is any one else that MAD! It will be even better next year when it has filled out a bit. Roll on Murray!

Creepy Crawly Insect Cakes

Imagine my delight yesterday to be given a wonderfully exciting tray of fairy cakes which Mary, the cookery teacher at Lincroft school had used as a demonstration to show the children how they could use garden insects as a decoration. Caterpillars and spiders were to look delicious! Their recent visits to my garden had made even the teachers think about garden life! More to come!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


After the soaring heat of the day, how refreshing it was to enjoy the soft, exquisite light on the stipa giganteas and white echinops beneath the white stemmed birch trees which lie to the fore of the wild flower meadow. Here the bales of hay were alight just like the church tower in the distance. Then as the red ball of fire dropped below the horizon, the pale blue scabious were at their most delicate.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sharing my garden with school children

Today was very unusual for me. My groups werenot a horticultural society, or flower arranging club as is so often the case. No, today my groups were Year 5 and 6 school children from nearby Lincroft School in Oakley (a middle school) which is quite simply one of the best in the county. Such enthusiasm for life, such eagerness to learn, and so creative.

The first group were here on a science outing, looking at the garden to understand how the plants reproduce. Well we normally think about insects don't we...bees and moths etc and we saw plenty of bees supping on foxgloves and honeysuckle. But as it happens, four crack willows on our western boundary are shedding their seed at the moment in clouds of cotton like balls, so that they are spread 'down wind' for 300-500 metres, may be more. Then there are animals and humans, one and the same thing maybe for whenever I pull all the foget me nots out at this time of year I always come away with seed all over my jumper. The same with goose grass seeds!

But one of the most memorable sights that day were the peony seedheads, pregnant and swelling, but still with their red styles intact. The peony concerned was Scarlet o'Hara, one of the best! My thanks to Russell Kearsley for this photograph.

The morning ended with the children drawing lots of seedheads and there were such interesting shapes...peonies (with pink styles attached as shown), honesty, alliums (with tiny white styles attached), foxgloves with long styles, aquilegias, cranesbills etc etc.

In the afternoon another class came with their dance teacher. She asked them to look at shapes in the garden, colours, movement etc and before we knew it the children had identified all sorts of fantastic ideas which were to be the core of a dance they are to perform to the rest of the school. A Boogie Woogie terrace dance floor based on Mondrians famous painting was certainly fertile ground. 'S' in the French garden, 'Z' in the sunken pit, 'V' in the walnut tree were also much discussed....I wonder how they will interpret it all.

So if you ever want to see a garden through 'new' eyes, just look at it with a child. Quite simply my garden will never be the same again. What a wonderful day!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

25,000 Visitors

Imagine the scene. Last Bank Holiday Monday was fine and sunny. We had lots of visitors for our late spring open day to see eight dreamy arches in the Wisteria Walk draped in laburnum, wisterias, robinias and clematis, all underplanted with glorious purple alliums. Rose petal sponge, and lavender-lemon drizzle cake teas were being served on the lawn...all was well with the world.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves....when 25,000 visitors flew in from the north west and made a bee line for the orchard. It was Bedlam with bees buzzing everywhere amongst the orchard trees over exactly the route that all our visitors came in by, except now some were leaving by that same route! One of them said to me, better call a beekeeper. Simon happened to be passing and I relayed the message. He rushed inside...but how do you phone a beekeeeper????

118 500 did the trick.....yes I have several in Nottinghamshire! Shall I put you through? Yes please.......several seconds later the beekeeper answered....Simon explained that we had an open day here, and there was a swarm of bees in the orchard, maybe with just a hint of panic in his voice! The person at the other end of the phone giggled and she repeated Simon's comments, and there was much guffawing in the background. She then told him that she was the landlady of the Beekeeper Inn and wasnot a beekeeper at all!!!! No doubt the customers that day are still chortling!

So that avenue closed, but thanks to Google the Bedfordshire Beekeepers site soon emerged and after several attmepts to find someone at home, Simon manged to find a real beekeeper only three miles away at Milton Ernest....and fifteen minutes later a super man called Chris Lewis came to save our day!

He made Simon dress in a beekepers outfit and soon they were cutting down branches of the cherry tree where the bees had now settled. A large box was then held underneath the swarming 25,000 bees (Chris reckoned that was the figure) and with a sharp shake of the tree the swarm fell off and the box was left on the floor whiltst the bees settled.

Apparently late that evening they were already making honey!